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George Bush Is Contributing to World Poverty

By William N. Ryerson
President, Population Media Center
August 24, 2005

Apologists for the Bush Administration are making claims that rapid rates of population growth somehow stimulate economic growth. The contention is that rapid rates of population growth stimulate consumerism and that the added demand fuels economic growth.

Actually, the opposite is true. The economies of many developing countries are being crippled by the fact that a high percentage of personal and national income is spent on the immediate consumption needs of food, housing and clothing - because there are too many children dependent on each working adult - leaving little income available to form investment capital.

Lack of investment capital depresses growth of productivity of industry and leads to high unemployment (which is exacerbated by rapid growth in the numbers of people seeking non-existent jobs). Lack of capital also contributes to a country's inability to invest in environmental protection, education, government infrastructure and other areas that can contribute to the long-term productivity of the economy and living standards of the people.

Herman Daly, former senior economist at the World Bank, believes that this applies to developing countries worldwide. Simply put, if the assertions by the Bush Administration and other conservatives were true, the slow-population-growth countries of Europe and North America would have weak economies, while the economies of sub-Saharan Africa and the high-population-growth countries of Asia and Latin America would be robust.

The real measure of economic welfare is not gross national product or national income, but the median income on a per capita basis. Stimulating gross national product by having more and more people buying fewer and fewer necessities does not enhance economic welfare.

In the 20th century, no nation has made much progress in the transition from "developing" to "developed" status until it first brought its population growth down. For example, in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, the Bahamas and Barbados, rapid economic development occurred only after each country had achieved a rate of natural increase of its population below 1.5 percent per year and an average number of children per woman of 2.3 or less.

Worldwide, according to a comprehensive report by American author Bruce Sundquist, developing nations now require about $1 trillion per year in new infrastructure development just to accommodate their population growth - a figure that is very far from being met and is effectively impossible for these countries to generate. This explains why developed-world humanitarian aid and loans to developing nations of $56 billion per year have been ineffective in improving their infrastructure and why the infrastructure of the developing world is sagging under the demands of the equivalent of a new Iraq every four months.

The 48 countries identified by the U.N. as "least developed" are expected to triple their population by 2050. As a whole, the developing world is struggling to make payments of $270 billion per year on its $2.5 trillion external debt - a debt that is increasing by another $1 trillion every decade.

Massive rural to urban migration in developing countries is making the situation in large cities increasingly desperate, with growing slums that lack basic sanitation and water, let alone schools. Projections of rural to urban migration over the next 30 years show that as many as four billion people may migrate from rural areas of developing countries either to join the one billion living in urban slums or emigrating to developed nations. This is a formula for increased political, social and economic instability worldwide.

The developing world is so capital-starved due to its high population growth rate that allocating some portion of government budgets to reproductive health care is often extremely difficult. Both developed and developing countries would need to triple their contributions to come close to what they committed to at the U.N. Population Conference in Cairo in 1994.

Meeting the entire need for family planning information and services of just $15.2 billion per year for several decades could reap a long-term benefit of over $1 trillion per year in reduced need for developing-world infrastructure growth and would enhance the health and welfare of people worldwide, while protecting the environment from further development. In the meantime, the Administration allocates less than 1 percent of the federal budget to humanitarian assistance for struggling countries. This stinginess not only hurts the people of the developing countries. Their poverty and suffering are major factors in the growing worldwide resentment toward the U.S. and its way of life.

William Ryerson is President of Population Media Center (www.populationmedia.org), a non-profit organization that uses specially-created radio and TV soap operas, written and produced in developing countries, to change behavior around the world with regard to family size, family planning, the status of women, avoidance of AIDS, and related issues. His email is ryerson@populationmedia.org.

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